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Remains of 36 people found in Charleston still in limbo 5 years later

Gaillard Center (WCIV)

It's an archaeological find that captivated Charleston. In 2013, the remains of 36 people of African descent were discovered downtown, where the Gaillard Center was under construction.

Five years later, the human remains have not yet been buried.

The city planned to rebury them across the street in the gardens at St. John's Reformed Episcopal Church. Those plans changed when Dr. Ade Ofunniyin, a local anthropologist/archaeologist, stepped in.

"It's more than me not wanting that. That would not have been the right thing to do, archaeologically. The remains should be returned where they were removed from," Offuniyin said. "While I should have been honored and pleased the remains were intended to go behind that church, I didn't think it was appropriate."

Ofunniyin said he grew up attending St. John's and is now an adjunct professor at College of Charleston. He said the remains should be placed as close as possible to the original burial site. He worked with city officials to designate an alternative option. The remains are set to be reinterred in February in a spot near George and Anson Street.

In the meantime, researchers are hoping DNA will help uncover the mysteries of the anonymous remains. After forensic analysis, scientists believe the remains were those of slaves who likely died between 1760 and 1800.

"I believe that these remains could tell a powerful story, but as important, is the story that the remains will tell is the opportunity to create conversations in our city around that institution of slavery," said Ofunniyin.

Ofunniyin is also the founder of the Gullah Society, which hosted a DNA workshop last month. Researchers collected DNA samples from 30 volunteers and said they hope to include at least 70 more volunteers.

"See if we can determine if anyone who is living today might be related to any of those ancient ancestors, it's a long shot, it's ambitious," he said. "We're in the beginning of the process, we should have results as soon as September on the modern DNAs that we've taken and we're still taking DNA if anyone is interested in having their DNA taken, they should contact Gullah Society."

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